Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Torres de Paine

We arrived in Puerto Natales, fresh off of our trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier (see picture below). It was Christmas eve, and we were in this small town, back across the border in Chile for one thing and one thing only. To Trek the famous "W" circuit in Torres De Paine National Park.

Through some fellow travelers we met in Bariloche, we found out that we could go to a hostel called the "Erratic Rock" and get a primer on what we were going to need for the next 5 days in this legendary park.

It was a great break down for a serious preparation. The guide told us about the extreme weather that we were likely to see, the best way to pack for it ( to keep our back packs dry), how to travel the circuit, and which parts of the park were the gems to be seen. It was great pre-curser, to the trip, and we prepared accordingly.

After taking a 2 hour bus ride north to the entrance of the Park, we were greeted by a clear view of the range. Torres de Paine is a random act of nature which occurred millions of years ago, when magma penetrated through a crack in Magellan's basin, pushing up granite and sedimentary rock, forming a magnificent spectacle. It also hosts the third largest ice field / glacier in all of the world. We were informed that this is one of the places weather is born, and we should be prepared for nothing short of epic weather conditions on a daily basis. It is not impossible to see all four seasons in one day.

It was Christmas day, and the weather was clear, but a wind blew gusts up to 60 mph, enough to through dirt and gravel in to the air, and make walking into the wind a task in itself. After taking a 45 minute boat ride across a lake to the trail head, we started the trek. Out destination for the day was the shore of Lago grey and Glacier grey. The sights did not disappoint as we made our way up and down craggy trails, battling the wind. We finally found ourselves at the camp site at the side of the lake, which featured large chunks of Ice, some the size of motor bikes, recently broken off from the nearby glacier. It was great first day, which thankfully gave us enough spirit to make it through the next two days.

The next two days were miserable. We had to hike in high winds, and icy rain. Our clothes, packs, and feet were nothing short of soaked as we trekked on to the next campsite. Thankfully the packing instructions gave to us a few days before paid off, and all of our contents remained dry.

We were camping at the foot of a valley called Valle de Frances. This, according to our sources was supposed to house the best views during our trek. In order to see it, we stayed an extra day, trying to wait the rain out, but alas it never cooperated, and on the fourth day we had to pack up camp and make up a day of hiking to stay on schedule and see to see the crown jewel of the park.

Day four will probably be the most memorable to me. We started early, and the weather finally cooperated. This was a choice situation as we had to make up a lot of ground. To date my longest day hiking, we completed just short of 17 miles up and down some steep terrain. The fuel to this madness was the insanely beautiful scenery which had just been exposed from the rainy cloud conditions.

We needed to make it to the base of Torres (Towers). Which according to our sources, seen at sun rise would become on of the best things we have ever seen. Although it took most of the day, and bared blisters, sore knees, and semi-sprained ankles, we made it to the final camp. Exhausted, we made camp and fell asleep after eating a hefty meal of noodles and powdered cheese.

The final morning. The site I'd been waiting to see. The Torres de Paine. Three magnificent spires jutting up from the mountainside, made of pure beautiful granite. We woke at 4 AM. Early, yes...but we still had to scramble up 45 minutes of rocky talus, to reach the valley where these gems existed. As I battled the soreness in my legs and knees from the previous day, I came to the top of the talus field to see nothing shot of pure beauty. Thankfully the weather permitted a view of the spires. However the wind howled in gale force as the sun raised, and Ryan got back in his sleeping bag and prepared some soup to warm his wavering soul.

I however was on another mission, I wanted to get a great photo. I tramped up more rocks for a better view, getting pelted with spurts of icy rain that felt like light bee stings to the face. The sun danced upon the spires as I rifled off shot after shot. At one point we were even blessed with a morning rainbow across the face of the rock. A truly magnificent experience.

The weather became to much, and we had to retreat back to camp. We packed up and made our way out of the mountians and to the main reception area where we would be picked up by a bus, and ride back to town.

After several days reflection, this was definately one of the hardest things I've ever done. In total we hiked over 40 miles in 5 days. Even when weather was at its worse the precious yet rugged beauty of this place shined through. Little things made this trip even more memorable. The glacier water, was so pure, we were able to drink directly from the streams and rivers. I tell you water has never tasted better than in its coldest, freshest form. I was also able to somehow summon some inner hiking strength, and hiked faster and harder than I ever have. I remembered the words of my hiking super star friend Damon Corso; " People don't pass me, I pass people", and proudly I kept true to form. Not one person passed me walking on the trail.

We have now crossed back into Argentina. We're still very far south, but preparing to take some unfortunately long bus rides up Buenos Aires. We decided to break it up, and stop off and see some penguins half way up. I'm excited. I'm not sure why I want to see these birds in their natural habitat, but I do. Next stop BUENOS AIRES!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Mad, Epic, Dash

In the last few days the scenery has change dramatically.  We were planning on staying in Bariloche for about 3 days, and then heading down ever south to Argentine Patagonia.  But when we checked the bus schedule, on Sunday morning we found out that we could either leave that afternoon, or wait four more days till the next day departed.  I guess buses to the end of the world don't run that frequently.  So in a rather mad panic, we packed our things, regretfully said goodbye to Bariloche in less than an hour, and boarded a bus headed for El Calafate.  

I'm not sure if you've ever been on a bus for 29 hours.  But its quite an experience.  Luckily a good 12 hours of it was spent sleeping, but that still left some time over to really contemplate....everything.  After a few hours of travel the lake districts lush and craggy mountains gave way to the Patagonian steppe.  This is one of the least inhabited sections of earth only behind Siberia.  The ground is flat as far as the eye can see and the only plant life, are small arid looking bushes.  Although drearily monotonous, it also had a serene, overwhelming beauty to it.  You could not help to marvel at its grand scale.  Roughly 14 hours into the trip, I was awakened by a beautiful sunrise (see below), a true treat of Patagonia.  As the journey started to come to an end the last hours of were the hardest, but finally we made it to El Calafate. 

You may ask why were we going to the end of the world, so close to the tip of South America that one could almost spit on it?   Well today it was glaciers.  We took a bus, and boat tour of the Moreno Glacier, which like everything in Patagonia was huge and grand in scale.   Its always been a dream of mine to see a glacier up close, and it definately didn't let me down.   
We were able to see parts of the glacier slough off and crash violently into the water, and gaze at its immense nature and magnificence.  This particular glacier is rare, for its stable and is not receding like most of the ones on earth.  It made me appreciate and understand that glaciers have really carved all of the world around us, and the fact that they are vanishing, is a real shame.  Unfortunately for pictures today was a bad day, really wet an rainy.  But it didn't dampen our spirits, which are ever increasing.
The other reason we are down this far, its to hike Torres del Paine.   If you care to check it out click here: 

We will leave for a 5 day trek on Christmas day to this epic wilderness.  No doubt adventure will ensue.  This will be a holiday of a life time.  And speaking of this, I wish everyone a very Happy Holiday, I wish I could be with you all during this time, and I want you to know that I'm with you in spirit.  
Much love, and Feliz Navidad.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Lake District

Wow, well it's been some time since I've posted, and this is mainly because since Ryan and I have crossed over the border to Argentina, we've been camping out in the wilderness in an area known as the lake district.

It's hard to even begin to explain the vast beauty of this place. Crystal clear lakes which give off a greenish hue, are surrounded by epic scenery; Volcanoes, tree covered mountains, old growth forests, and Swiss like towns which boast of log built houses and chocolate shops galore.

We arrived from Chile, in San Martin de los Andes. A charming town on the edge of a lake surrounded by tree lined mountain vistas. We quickly understood, although adventures were around every corner, there was really no way to get there unless we rented a car. A tad costly for our budget, but it turned out to be the best decision in the end.

Our first stop was Lago Huehulafquen. Yes I know its a mouth full, but it's a Mapuche word, which is the Native tounge of this area. As we drove in, we realized that we were definatley in epic territory. Insanely jagged peaks burst out around the crystaline lake, and when there weren't mountains, there were hillsides covered in old growth forrests from a differnt time, that twisted and turned from undergrowth to tree top. We were so inspired and awestruck by the first bits of the drive, we couldn't even begin to comprehend that Volcan Lanin laid around the next corner. It seemed that every turn we took brought us a new vision of Godly perfection. We finally got out and took a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, which Ryan embraced with all of his capacity (see picture below).

After this we decided to find some camping. What we discovered has to certainly be the most scenic camping I've ever done. Clinging to a gentle slope with large, sparsely placed trees, this camp ground had sites that nestled next to the gently lapping shore, and had vistas of the craggy peaks. Pure perfection.

However scenery wasn't the only thing that made this location great. As we were eating our dinner on the lake shore, watching the sun go down, an old man named Fransico, approached us, speaking a mixed bag of Spanish. It turns out that he had property next to the campground, and he was curious about us. He happened to be an actual Mapuche tribe member, who had been living on this simple parcel for over 55 years. When we told him we were from the United States, he was excited. We were the first people from the U.S. that he had ever met. This was such a distinction in his mind he decided to take us on a hike the next day, one that he usually didn't show people, but because we had came so far, he decided to show us.


When we met up with him the next day, it didn't dissapoint in any way. Not only was he very happy to accomidate me with my photographic tendencies, he let us into his world. On our way on the hike, he showed us wild blueberries that we could eat, showed us wild boar sign and told us stories of his epic hunts, and explained to us that he had a girl friend that wasn't pretty at all. He said at 66 he'd rather be single, and have the option of many women. When we got to the end of the trail he dazzled us with his private waterfall that ran only on his land. It was really an awesome moment on this trip, to have such a great conversation, and see what many have not. We felt blessed.

After two days at that lake, we moved on to several others in the next few days. Each having there own unique characterisics and charming visual qualities. I've never felt such a peace in nature like this. Flowing rivers, flower and fauna that were bizzare and stunning. I really felt like I couldn't soak enough of it up.

As we continued ever south, we approached our destination of the town called Bariloche. But before we got there we wanted to do one last adventure. We rented mountain bikes and traversed a peninsula 24km into the heart of lake Nahuel Haupi. I'm definitely not a mountain biker, and it showed. On some of the steep parts, I had to walk the bike up. But mostly it was cruiser. The trail went well into a primordial wood, that sometimes blocked out the sun, and bled ancient moss from its bark. Towards the tip of the peninsula, the forest changed into a different kind of tree. A rare grove called Arrayanes. A strange forrest which limbs twisted and turned, and had bark that resembled a birch tree with red bark. Truely a remarkable spot.

As we ventured back on the trail, we were treated to a rainbow of epic proportions. We could literaly see where it ended, which was right into the town we were headed too.

I now sit it Bariloche, on a rainy blustery day. Good for rest, and planning the next stages of our journey. It promises to get better, for in the next days we will see what this town has to offer, and start our journey down to the legendary Patagonia.

Oh...I've been taking tons of pictures, some of them have turned out to be quite cool. And although I've got requests to post more, its a real pain in the ass. I promise to put a bunch on my website when I return from this trip.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kip Vs. the Volcano

Over the last 6 days Ryan and I have been staying with his uncle Tom, who we fondly call "Don Thomas".   He has been really good to us, giving us a place to stay (without paying, bonus!), cooking us breakfast and dinner every day, and taking us around to all of the local spots.  I guess we were getting a little antsy from all of the special treatment, and wanted something a little challenging.  We decided, to climb Volcan Villarrica.  

This imposing 9000+ foot behemoth towers above the town Pucon.  Still an active Volcano, it last erupted sometime in the 60's and still can be seen with smoke coming out of it on almost a daily basis.  We had read about guided treks up the Volcano, and decided that it was time to embark on the first real adventure of our Journey.  

We met up with the guides around 7:30 in the morning, and we're paired up with two sisters from Orlando.  When we got to the trail head we were at around 4,000 feet, and really excited to start.  We we're outfitted with backpacks, boots, Ice axe, and some water proof clothes.  

The hike started off steep as hell, and as I looked up at the beast which beckoned me, I knew I was in for a fight. 
The hike started on loose volcanic rock, which as it got steeper, changed to snow.   We were then instructed how to use our Ice axe to keep our balance and proceeded to hike a never ending snow staircase which switched back and forth for 5 hours.  

It really never seemed to end, many times I looked up at the other tour groups ahead of us, and saw how much further we had to go.  Several times we would look up and see the top, and as we rounded the horizon, we saw that it just kept going and going. The ever increasing staircase started to take its toll.  

Now just before this trip, I started to walk 5 miles every day, trying to prepare myself for the walking /hiking that was in store for me.  However this did little to prepare me for a Volcano of this magnitude.  Around 4 hours into the hike, and probably 1000 feet below the summit, my left leg started  to cramp.  As I pushed on, keeping the pace, it became worse, and about 500 feet below the top, both of my legs cramped so bad I had to sit down from the pain.  It was quite strange for I had been drinking plenty of water, and didn't feel exhausted.  But my legs were not having fun from the almost vertical hike.  

I was super pissed as I watched Ryan and the others in my group press on.  There was no way I was going to come this far and not see the top of this volcano.  As I tried to massage my legs, I remembered that sugar helped with cramping, and I just so happened to have several nectarines in my bag.  I ate two quickly, waited a few more minutes, took in the view, and then stood up.  Miraculously my legs felt much better, and though behind the others, I eventually made it to the top.  

It was quite a magnificent site.  As we rounded the crest of the Volcano, the snow gave way to a gaping pit which smelled of foul sulfur. One gust of wind brought a stench so bad that I gagged and Ryan's mouth and eyes watered.  We meandered around the lip of the volcano for a bit, and then prepared for our decent. 

As we put on our full snow suits, helmets and a weird kind of butt pad, we realized we weren't going to walk down this Volcano, we were going to slide down.  There were well worn ruts shooting down the steep slopes for thousands of feet.  After we were instructed how to break using our Ice axe, we flung ourselves down endless luge like slides.  It was hard to tell but if felt like we were going at least 40 miles an hour on some of the steeper sections.  I'm not sure how I didn't wipe out but I didn't, and what took us 5 hours to climb up, took us only 1 hour to slide down.  It reminded me of my youth when I was sledding down the big hill in Lynwood, except this was exponentially faster, and higher.  By far it was the most enjoyable part of the day.  

By the time we got down, we were exhausted, and after a short bus ride back to Villarrica, we dreamt of hiking, sulfur, and sledding way into the night.  

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Right now, Í´m in the little town called Villarica. Its about 11 hours south of Santiago by bus, and its truley an astounding place. Its situated on Lake Villarica, which is a crystal clear lake underneath the enourmous Vocano of the same name.

I met up with my friend Ryan in Santiago a couple of days ago, and we traveled down here together to his Uncle´s house. He lives on a nice plot of land, has a huge garden and we take showers with solar power heated water. It´s a very pleasurable, simple life.

Yesterday we went up to a different lake which was heated by volcanic activiy and basked in the sun. This region is heavily forrested and strikingly beautiful. Its very similar to the pacific Northwest of the U.S. Its definately my kind of area.

I´m not sure when the next time I´ll have internet service, we are about to head into the wild of Argentina. The scenery promises to become even more beautiful an entrancing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Vaparaiso and Reflections

For the last few days I've been in a port town on the Pacific called Valparaiso. Its about 2 hours from Santiago by bus, and boasts steep, steep hillsides filled with brightly colored houses, winding roads, and a bit of mystery. I've been staying at a Hospadeja (Guest house), which is pretty much a combination of a bed and breakfast mixed with a hostel. A woman and her son ran the place, and although it was a little musty, it served as a nice home base for a few days.

Valpo is really a sight to be seen. The steep and winding cobblestone, dirt, and paved streets, rival those of San Francisco, without the sophisticated nature. The hillsides are so steep in fact that they have something called Acensonars, which are basically box car shaped trams that are hauled up by steel cables. These things didn't really inspire safety, and frankly looking was good enough for me.

However this means to see the more remarkable areas, I had to hoof it up some super steep terrain. But it was worth it. The neighborhoods were confusing to navigate with no grid system what-so-ever. But they beamed with a bohemian style and flavor. The colors of the houses were so fantastic and bright I could have wandered aimlessly forever. Which I started to do, when a older fellow told me to go back the way I came from, because if I kept going in that direction, I would probably get robbed. Not a problem, I turned right around and stuck to the places in my guide book.

One highlight of Valpo was the house of famous poet / nobel prize winner Pablo Nureda. This house was so high up it had an almost 360 degree view of the bay. It would have been a very inspiring local to live. The house was furnished with furniture, art, and antiquities from around the globe, giving it a very eclectic smart style.

I'm not sure if it has been the extended time alone, or the underlying energy of this place, but my time in Valpo has been very reflective. Its funny what one's mind cling's to when it has time to breathe. In my case its been things that I have had a hard time dealing with, and coming to terms with. I'm not sure what it was about Pablo Nureda's house that made me really reflect on my life's last tribulations, but it did.

And since I've been reading so much this past week, I've come to feel that life resembles a book in many ways. As days go on, so do pages turn. And although you may re-read the pages, like re-living memories, you already know the outcome. I think one needs to look forward to the next chapter, for every word is a new experience, and every chapter a new aspect of life. I think we should look forward always, for its the only thing that's uncertian, and the only place where endless possibilities exist.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Ahh..... Santiago.  I finally arrived.  I've been here for two days now, and I find this city rather pleasant and temperate.  Its good to be back in a climate that doesn't chill you to the bone.  
I'm staying at a hostel called "La Casa Roja"  its a colonial mansion that has been turned into a hostel.  Its rather nice boasting several courtyards, a pool, hot tub, and enough young backpackers like myself to fill one's conversation threshold.   It's in a bohemian type neighborhood called Barrio Brazil.  Its a rather "aged" area scattered with brightly colored homes mixed in with turn of the century colonial architecture.  Its homey, trendy, and I like it.   It's right down the street from "El Centro"  or the city center, which is modern and cosmopolitan as any I've been in.  The fashion is high, the architecture grand, and it has an energy that all good cities should.  
I've spent my time wandering the city, taking in the sights, and trying to get a feel for my command of the Spanish language, which is exactly what I thought it would be;  I can communicate my points well enough, but understanding the rapid barrage of spanish coming back to me is another story.   No fear, I'm here for a while and I can't wait till I can have a real conversation.   
Santiago is nice, but besides the local land marks, and museums (which I've seen) it doesn't have much else to do.  No matter,  tomorrow I'm off to Vaparasio, which is said to be the " San Francisco" of  South America.  This port town is said to have tons of character and visual stimulus.  I'm ready to be off. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Alas, I leave.

It has arrived, the day to leave.  I'm really not as nervous or anxious as I thought I would be.  It feels like it is time to go.  Yesterday snow blanketed the Chicagoland area, and the temps dropped to the mid 20's.  This is definitely not Kip weather.  I've looked up the weather for Santiago,  low 80's for the rest of the week.  I'm excited to go back to another warm location.  

So the bags are packed, the good byes have been said, and the reality of the situation settles in.  I've been talking about going south for about a month now. Doing it is much different than blabbering about it.   The thing I'm worried about most, is that I've forgot to pack something, or will leave something behind.  Losing things is my eternal dilemma. 

I've had a good time here in Chicago, I've been able to spend time with friends and family that I haven't seen in ages.  It feels good to recharge your batteries at home.  It makes the first step of the journey that much easier.  

So now I embark, I leave with a clear mind, and I'm eager to push off.   So many unknown things are about to transpire, I can't wait to experience them all.  Santiago here I come. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The journey begins

Life is a rather strange thing.  At one moment you can be in the midst of one world, and in a heart beat you can be thrown into another.  I think, in these moments, the way you deal with the change defines who you are as a person.  

I find myself at a crossroads.  In the past month a relationship ends, I loose my job, and my lease expires.  I stand at a junction and must make a choice:  Do I pick up what's left and continue on looking for another job, and the prospect of working another 8 hour day, 40 hours a week in an office?  Or do I do something a little uncomfortable, something exciting and adventurous, something that will change my perspective on life for the rest of my days?  I think there is no question.   All signs point south.

Right now I'm in Chicago.  Where I was born, my home.  I'm getting ready for a trip I've only dreamed of.  I'm flying into Santiago, Chile,  and two months later I'll be Flying out of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  The plans between then are foggy at best.  For the first part of this journey, I'll be joined by my bandit brother Ryan.  Together we will travel south to the end of the earth, and hopefully return with tales of epic proportion.  At one months end, Ryan will leave, and I will be there solo.  Who know what I will encounter, but I'm sure it will be marvelous.  Stay tuned.